Head Spins: WDNA's Frank Consola

Morning rush hour in Miami is seldom anything less than utterly maddening. Between the drivers talking on their phones and those eating their breakfast, applying their makeup, or doing their hair, it's a wonder there's not a crackup on every corner. Add bad roads, ill-timed lights, and most Miamians' piss-poor traffic skills, and it's a wonder we all don't crack up ourselves.

Thank Zeus there's something going on in the ether that can calm even the most irate among us. And no matter how heated things become inside your head or out on the street, this cool blue something will fix it. It's generally classic, it's almost always tres hip, and it's, by unanimous opinion, the one true American art form.

Yep, that certain something is jazz. That might mean the hot pop of bebop, some sunshiny West Coast cool, the crosscurrents of Afro-Cuban, or any one of a dozen depthless subgenres. Whatever you want to call it, there's only one place on the dial to get it every weekday morning and to get it damn good: WDNA, 88.9 FM.

Consola soothes hot heads with cool jazz.
Michael McElroy
Consola soothes hot heads with cool jazz.

The weekday morning show is called Serious Jazz, and your host is "Mr. Jazz" himself, Frank Consola. He's been right there bright and early for more than a decade, all the while keeping many commuters from losing their drive-time cool.

Consola is a bit of a cool cat himself — old school, with more than a little of the boho professor about him. Born in Brooklyn and raised in northeast Philly, Consola came about his love of the form the way all fans should come about it, through a crush. The crush in question was a little older than he was, and she's long gone. But Consola has never forgotten her playing him Herbie Mann at the Village Gate.

From that moment, Consola was hooked. He'd haunt the racks of Philadelphia's Market Street record shops whenever he had the chance. At night, he'd hit classic spots such as Pep's Musical Lounge and the Showboat, where he caught the likes of Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, and Cannonball Adderley. "The late '60s was a great time for jazz," he says, "and everyone who was anyone came through Philly."

In 1982, Consola made his way to Miami, and seven years later, he began hanging around WDNA. "I became sort of a pest, volunteering any chance I could get, until the station finally agreed to give me a spot of my own," he recalls, laughing. Once a week became twice a week, which in turn became the five-day workweek he has today. All told, it adds up to the longest-running jazz show in town.

"Though I do work hard putting together each day's playlist — 90 percent of which comes from my own library — I don't consider it work at all," Consola says. "It's more like a dream come true. My life is totally devoted to jazz. So what more could I ask for?"

In fact, so devoted is Consola that esteemed names such as Wayne Shorter, Grover Washington, Sonny Rollins, and Branford Marsalis have granted him interviews. And, yes, he even landed a chat with Herbie Mann, the cat who got him into this swinging thing in the first place.

These days, Consola also hits as many jazz fests as possible, from New Orleans to Chicago. And he always brings back good stories and great music to set to each fest's tribute shows. And though Arturo Sandoval's Jazz Club is no longer, and jazz still doesn't have a real home in Miami, Consola also stays well tuned in on as much local live action as he can.

For instance, there's the Thursday-night jazz jam held down South Dixie Highway at Miami Wings in Cutler Bay, a weekly that just marked its first anniversary. Multi-instrumentalist and local legend Ira Sullivan can generally be found there trading licks with whomever is around. And then there's whatever jazz cat or kitten happens to be swinging into town. Whether they're staging at the Arsht or the Artime, Consola is there, and he makes sure his legion of loyal listeners knows just what's up before anyone else.

Still, that show gives Consola a certain go-cat-go and keeps many of us from going off our rocker. Tune in the next time you find yourself in some heavy traffic. And if Miles, Coltrane, Parker, Kirk, and the rest of the legends don't soothe your soul, chances are you're too much of a hothead for even the coolest of jazz.

 
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